How to start a bed and breakfast business

Posted: 18th November 2015

An increasing number of people are turning away from highly stressed office jobs to move to the country and set up their own business. And for many the first business that springs to mind is running a B&B; you get to live and work from home, in a location you love and you get to be your own boss. On the downside, you’ll probably double the hours you work, have strangers living in your home and have to learn how to smile and do small talk at 7.00 in the morning, whatever your mood!

If you think that the positives still outweigh the negatives, then read on for an overview of all the things you need to consider for setting up a successful B&B.

Have a clear Vision and Goals

Wherever you are in your plan to set up a B&B it’s really important to have a clear vision, well defined goals and an action plan to achieve them. Do you know what sort of B&B you want to set up? Are you going to be running an equestrian B&B in the middle of the countryside, a 5 star boutique B&B in a market town or a comfy farm stay? Being really clear about what you’re trying to achieve and writing it all down will save you expensive mistakes later on.

What do people want from a B&B?

You’ll want guests to love your B&B, to keep coming back and to send all their friends. To achieve this there are a few basics that it’s important to get right; a really comfortable bed, a high level of cleanliness, excellent breakfast and probably, most important, a warm welcome. You may have the most beautifully furnished B&B in the county but unless people are made to feel comfortable and welcome they won’t be back.

Once you’ve got the basics then you can work on the extras that will really distinguish you from all of the other serviced accommodation out there.

Investing in your business

Even if you’re setting up a B&B using existing rooms and furniture in your home, you’ll still need to allocate money towards marketing and advertising. You’ll need to have a high level financial plan to ensure that you cover every cost and every area of the business. You don’t want to spend all your money on really expensive furnishings just to discover that you’ve run out of cash and forgotten all about having a website.

Marketing your B&B

The current advice to new B&B owners is that you should allocate 20% of your turnover in your first year to marketing costs. By no means an exhaustive list the types of costs you’re likely to incur are:

  • Printed leaflets and business cards
  • Membership of local tourism associations such as the tourist board
  • Quality Rating
  • Printed B&B guides – e.g. Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay
  • Membership and advertising with National associations such as The Ramblers Association

As soon as you set up in business you will be inundated by people trying to sell you advertising space or to feature on their accommodation directory.

It can be overwhelming. My best advice is to set a marketing plan and a budget, talk to other B&B owners and the Tourism Business Advisors to find out what works for them, decide where you will spend your money and stick to it.

Be scrupulous about gathering data from your guests to discover where they are. In the first few years you will make some marketing mistakes, but by gathering information you’ll be able to find out what marketing works best for you, refine what you’re doing and reduce your overall spend.

And remember that there are many ways to promote your business for free; such as getting PR for an event you’re holding, networking locally with other B&B owners, or holding a coffee morning for local business people who may send customers your way.

Get a Website

To set up a truly successful and profitable B&B business these days it really is essential to have a website, even if it’s only one page on a tourism organisation – though the better and more professional the website – the more people you’ll attract.

Once you have an internet presence you can utilise many more ways to promote your business; use Pay Per Click (PPC) on search engines, produce a regular newsletter, contribute to online discussion forums such as Practical Poultry Pages!

Legal Requirements

An essential area to address before you set up your business is what local and national legal requirements you need to abide by. Talk to your local council and see if there are any local restrictions, then get a copy of The Pink Booklet covering all the legal requirements for accommodation providers.

Paperwork and Administration

If you thought that leaving the office job behind was going to free you from your desk you’d be wrong! To run a successful B&B, with happy guests, you’ll need an efficient administration system and time to administer it. Get it in place before you start your B&B and significantly reduce the risk of overbooking and money going astray.

By having professional paperwork and a smooth checking in process, you’ll impress your guests and the hotel inspector.

Setting up the B&B

As well as the fun part of creating comfortable well furnished rooms for your guests, it’s worth considering the practical elements of running a B&B.

Have you considered your family living area – it really is recommended that you have somewhere you can go to get away from guests to give yourself a break. Do you have a separate guest dining area?

Whilst you may think they can eat in the kitchen – do you really want them seeing you rushing around swearing when you burn the toast? Do you have young children? How will you deal with picking them up from after school clubs if you have B&B guests due?

Setting boundaries – both physical and mental

Whilst excellent customer service should be paramount to you, you need to set some boundaries to ensure that you continue to enjoy your work and don’t suffer from burnout! What are your check in and check out times? How will you stick to them when guests ask to arrive early or leave late? You’ll need time to clean, shop, cook as well as some time out for yourself to relax. How will you cope if a guest walks into your family lounge in the middle of a relaxing evening?

Guests are often more comfortable if they know where they can and can’t go. Most people don’t like to intrude and by clearly stating where your family areas start and the guest areas finish may well prevent any embarrassing incidents!

I wish you every success in opening your B&B. It can be a hugely rewarding and profitable business – I look forward to hearing how you get on.

This article was submitted by Karen Thorne, who runs Hopton House B&B in South Shropshire. After just one year in business her B&B has been nominated for the Heart of England B&B of the year award and her website has been nominated in the Best Tourism Website Category.

Karen runs email courses supplying information and coaching to prospective B&B owners and writes 2 monthly newsletters – one for prospective B&B owners and the other for past and future guests.



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